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The student news site of Dartmouth High School

The Spectrum

The student news site of Dartmouth High School

The Spectrum

Local Musicians, Vol 2: Rowan Desautels

Desautels+performing+behind+the+baby+grand+piano+at+Dough+Company%2C+located+in+the+Kilburn+Mill.+Desautels+is+the+vocalist%2C+pianist%2C+and+occasional+guitarist+and+banjoist+in+her+band%2C+while+her+stepfather+plays+acoustic+guitar.
Beautifully Human
Desautels performing behind the baby grand piano at Dough Company, located in the Kilburn Mill. Desautels is the vocalist, pianist, and occasional guitarist and banjoist in her band, while her stepfather plays acoustic guitar.

Sophomore Rowan Desautels has made a name for herself as a rising star in the Dartmouth High Theatre Company. She portrayed the lead role of Sophie in the 2023 spring production of Mamma Mia!, her first show as a freshman. She was recently cast as the lead again in the upcoming production of Grease after portraying Danielle in Freaky Friday.

It’s less well known that Desautels is one half of Beautifully Human, an acoustic band she formed with her stepfather, accomplished guitarist John Brittingham.

Desautels started taking singing lessons when she was in second grade. She stopped for a period of time to play youth soccer before resuming when she was around 11 years old. That same year, she performed Lady Gaga’s “Is That Alright?” to celebrate her mother’s wedding to Brittingham – Desautels on vox, the groom on piano. The idea of starting a band, however, didn’t arise until Desautels and Brittingham performed Grateful Dead’s “I Know You Rider” at her grandfather’s funeral.

“He’s the whole reason I started a band,” Desautels said. “Ever since [the funeral], he’s been motivating me to learn more songs, practice, and write music. He’s been a really good support in my life.”

I was bored and there was a piano in my house. I ended up just using tabs and learning how to play. Piano is my favorite instrument. I love playing it. I really enjoy figuring out the chords.

— Rowan Desautels

The duo began playing open mics around the South Coast and Rhode Island as Beautifully Human. Desautels took up piano lessons, which she stopped during the COVID-19 pandemic because she found it difficult to learn virtually. So she taught herself throughout quarantine.

“I was bored and there was a piano in my house,” she explained. “I ended up just using tabs and learning how to play. Piano is my favorite instrument. I love playing it. I really enjoy figuring out the chords.”

Desautels learned to play an abundance of covers as a result, including “The Joke” by Brandi Carlile, which she and Brittingham performed when they auditioned for The Voice in 2020. “I was 13; I was so nervous,” she recalled. “I remember listening back to the track that I recorded and I was like, ‘Oh, dear God.’ It was… something. Something else. I don’t think I’ve ever been that nervous before.”

“I didn’t make it past the first audition, and I don’t think I would audition again,” she added. “I would prefer not to go on a TV show. If I had the possibility of making it in music, I feel like a more traditional standpoint is better because I’ve noticed often with the TV shows, especially now that I’m older, there’s a lot of your own identity that they take away for the sake of the cameras. I would prefer to keep my musical identity because music is a big part of my life, and it’s how I cope with a lot of things. I feel like a big TV corporation taking that away from me is not something I would enjoy.”

Instead of returning to Dartmouth Middle School for seventh grade after quarantine, Desautels attended Jacqueline M. Walsh School for the Arts. It wasn’t a great fit. “The problem with the performing arts school was the academics,” she said. “Having a really good education, in terms of science and history and ELA and math, is very important to me. I like to be very well-rounded. At the music school, the curriculum is very different from New Bedford’s.” (Desautels attended New Bedford Public Schools in eighth grade.)

“I didn’t feel like I was learning enough. I was very bored in all my classes. So bored,” she continued with a dread-filled laugh. “To be honest, I wasn’t learning a lot in the music standpoint either. I came back here [to DHS] with Mr. Bianco, and I learned way more than I did at the performing arts school.” Desautels has taken advantage of several music classes offered at DHS, as well as the school’s show choir and of course the musical theater department.

At the arts school, Desautels once again used creativity to cope with this boredom. She wrote one of her first original songs, “Nightingale,” in the middle of class. “I’ve written many songs in school about school,” she said. “It’s little things that influence me throughout the day. I find myself writing on my computer or saving lyrics in one of my notebooks or singing something over and over again in my head.”

She carries those fragments of ideas with her until dismissal. “As soon as I get an idea, I have to go home and sit behind the piano, and I focus on it for hours,” she explained. “If I choose to write a song, I sit down and I finish it no matter what.”

In eighth grade, Desautels left the performing arts school to attend New Bedford Public Schools’ dual enrollment program, dividing her school day between Keith Middle and New Bedford High. “I have a song called ‘Comply’ that was written about one of my teachers when I was in eighth grade,” Desautels said. “I wrote it during school because she said something that made me kind of annoyed. I had that one line that she said over and over again. She was talking about the school dress code. At the time, girls weren’t allowed to have any shorts that didn’t cover your knee. You couldn’t have any part of your thigh uncovered. They would dress code you no matter what, which was crazy. So she was like, ‘Don’t even bother, just comply with it, don’t ask questions about it.’”

It’s very important to express yourself and be able to advocate for yourself when you feel like there’s something wrong. I wrote ‘Comply’ about that.

— Rowan Desautels

“I’ve never really sat well with anybody telling me to do that,” Desautels said. “It’s very important to express yourself and be able to advocate for yourself when you feel like there’s something wrong. I wrote ‘Comply’ about that.”

Desautels also wrote “Power of Words” about injustices in school. “It’s about kids I don’t like,” she stated when introducing the song during a gig at New Bedford’s Play Arcade. The lyrics discuss classmates who catcall, make offensive jokes, and use slurs – sometimes understanding the harm they’re doing, sometimes too young to grasp it. “You’re miserable and you’re repressed / You need something to help you digest / But you don’t know how to be happy / So you drag people down / Don’t care if they drown,” she sings. “You’re a tyrant with a crown / But I see you as a clown.”

Death of original thought is a recurring theme in Desautels’ lyrics, which are often politically motivated. You hear it in “Comply” as the narrator instructs the listener to “give us your mind” while following “every rule / everything they say blind.” You most definitely hear it in “Slave to the Moon,” a jazz-inspired tune Desautels wrote after watching Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times with her family. With the help of her mother, a former DHS English teacher, Desautels crafted a heavily-researched critique of modern American capitalism and its effect on creativity, people’s minds, and quality of life. She begins in the time of Gatsby’s Roaring Twenties before taking the listener on a journey through Progressive Era muckraking, the Manhattan Project, the Red Scare, phone addiction, the climate crisis, and billionaire space travel, among several other aspects of corrupt capitalism. Original thinkers such as Bradbury, Sinclair, Vonnegut, and Einstein all get name-dropped throughout the song.

“Sleep, mental health / What is it worth? / If we can’t increase the profits / Then we won’t make dirt / Money’s all that matters / No, not your sweet soul / Not creative process, your thoughts / Your sense of control,” Desautels sings. “Keep the engine running / Be a slave to the moon / It don’t matter that you’re human / All that matters is what you consume.”

Desautels is working on turning all her original songs into a 12-track album. “This would be my first [album], but I have written a bunch of songs before,” she said. “I tend to be a perfectionist, so I scrap a lot of them. But I do have at least eight of the 12.”

Between school, extracurriculars, and life in general, Desautels has had to put the project on hold. “I did have some time in the recording studio, but then my grandfather passed away, and I wasn’t able to focus on it as much as I wanted to,” she explained. “We haven’t been able to record in a really long time. Everything that’s happening right now with my musical theater lane is kind of taking away from that more than I would like it to.” (I interviewed Desautels during Freaky Friday’s tech week, the most stressful time of any production for an actor such as herself.) Desautels has recording equipment at her house, which she’s been using to work on tracks to later bring to the studio.

Desautels makes a point of making time for songwriting during the school year. “I tend to sit down at the piano and work on that for probably 10 minutes a day,” she said. “A lot of the time, I don’t have as much time as I would like for my creative outlets. But I do try to make sure that I sit down and I do something every day.” Currently, she’s spending the time she gets at the piano reworking “Nightingale” into a longer song with a more complex piano part.

Desautels also enjoys writing short stories and poetry – the latter of which she considers a form of songwriting. She discovered that writing prose and verse helps her develop her songwriting skills. Similarly, Desautels draws upon different techniques from both of her singing styles: a traditional style for musical theater, and a pop style for Beautifully Human. “Studying different types of vocal techniques has really helped me to hone my own musicality and my own way of singing in a way that I haven’t been able to do before because I have really only been focusing on one genre,” she explained.

Between her budding career and striking original voice, one would assume Desautels wants to pursue songwriting after high school. However, Desautels is torn between her love for creating music and acting in musical theater.

“I have a lot of colleges planned out,” she said. All of the tips and proceeds Beautifully Human receives from gigs go towards her tuition. “I’ve been doing a ton of research on musical theater colleges like Northwestern, which is one of the top musical theater colleges, and obviously Emerson, Juilliard – those are big names. Berkeley is my top musical school currently, and I would probably focus on songwriting there.”

“I’m kind of all over the place,” Desautels admitted. “But I know that I want to be somewhere in music for the future.”

Beautifully Human can be booked or contacted at www.beautifulhumansmusic.com.

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About the Contributor
Annica Dupre, Assistant Editor
Annica Dupre is a sophomore at DHS. This is her second year on The Spectrum and her first year as an assistant editor. She writes about a wide variety of topics, with a recurring focus on environmental issues, education issues, and youth perspectives in media. She's also The Spectrum's unofficial, self-appointed tennis correspondent. Annica is the co-president of the Environmental Club, as well as a member of the Debate Club and the Student Advisory Committee. In the spring, she plays for the DHS Tennis Team.

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